Lincoln

Eavesdropping at the Movies – 53 – Ready Player One

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I was bored through most of it and actively irritated by the end of the film. Mike kind of liked it. We talked about references, about address — it’s aimed at boys but some confusion about which generation — the quality of the animation. ‘It’s like a kid’s movie used to be but just not aimed at you,’ says Mike. A work in which the maker of a video game is treated and read as the equivalent of the bible; a sad film indeed. To me further proof that Spielberg doesn’t quite rank with the greatest of filmmakers: incredible technical skills, a prodigy. But to what end? I found it full of pop-cultural references pop-culture geeks will delight in but ultimately dumb and empty. I can’t imagine what people who don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, film and video games of the last forty years will make of it. There’s no emotional resonance to this film at all; and its view of human nature and the way the world works is as banal as it gets. Brummies will be interested in seeing how their city is used to signify  a dystopic futuristic Columbus, Ohio. West Midlands News was delighted; more sophisticated viewers might get enraged. Throughout, Mike offers much more generous readings than the above.

 

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José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies 37 – The Post

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Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. Nixon. A political thriller that adopts some clichés and slightly sidesteps some expectations, The Post is a historical drama that follows the internal conflict at The Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers scandal.

We find plenty to talk about in its parallels with the Trump White House and the current President’s attacks on the news media; its careful but stilted style; its relationship to the 70s cinema it evokes; its central figure of a woman out of place in a world of men; and the balance between its nationalistic boosterism of the US Constitution and American exceptionalism on the one hand, and its surprisingly direct denunciation of the powers that be in Washington. You can literally hear Mike learning about the Nixon era, live!

Also discussed: Mike loves Bridge of Spies, Jose doesn’t love Bridge of Spies, Mike thinks Spotlight is uniquely brilliant, Jose espouses his theory on Meryl Streep’s stardom, and why is everyone in the Post’s newsroom over 65?

Recorded on 22nd January 2018

 

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José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, USA, 2015)

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I found Bridge of Spies masterfully well-made, with an interesting look — lots of high contrast greys filmed with fish-eyed lenses — a very good central performance from Tom Hanks and a great one from Mark Rylance. It was also good to see all the wonderful German actors one recognises from Sense8 (Maximilian Mauff) and Homeland (Sebastian Koch) in supporting roles.

The film is based on a true story set at the height of the Cold War in which James B. Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer, puts himself forward to defend the rights of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) and in doing so is then able to facilitate an exchange not only for Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a captured American U2 spy plane pilot, but also for Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American student arrested in East Berlin.

It looks like an expensive film, with dozens of extras and intricate sets, an achievement considering its reported $40 million budget. The reconstruction of post-war Berlin, with its detailed view of the extent of its destruction and at that very  moment the divisive wall is going up, is particularly magnificent. However, the film also feels curiously old-fashioned and slightly smug.

The film is a guilty and anxious attempt to show America how to behave morally and well today by dramatising an incident of decency and humanity from its past achieved against the tide of public and institutional opinion. I thought of it in relation to Lincoln and I’m sure future scholars will group them as films of his maturity exploring similar concerns… and oh so responsibly. If you can ignore the preachy-ness of it’s tone, it’s enjoyable.

I had to force myself to see Bridge of Spies. How could one miss a film written by the Cohens and directed by Spielberg? And I’m glad I did. But it was a struggle. And in the light of that struggle and on the evidence not only of this film but of so many dull, worthy and well-made ones over the last decade or more (War Horse anyone?), one can’t help but ask ‘When did Spielberg cease to matter’

 

José Arroyo

 

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